Top places to visit in Sikkim
It’s incredible to think that the second smallest state of India…Sikkim can boast of so many wonderful destinations. Tourists have been visiting Sikkim for decades but so many of its lovelier places are yet hidden and unexplored. It’s difficult compiling a list of the ten best places to visit in this lovely little Himalayan Kingdom but the ones mentioned on this list below simply cannot be missed.
Sikkim appeals to a wide range of tourists… the destination hopper, the spiritual seeker, the nature lover, the birder, the adventure tourism junkie and anyone else who has an eye for beauty.
Gangtok is definitely the most visited place in Sikkim for many prominent reasons. Firstly it enjoys great transport connectivity to major tourist hubs (Siliguri/NJP, Darjeeling, Kalimpong) and can be used as a base for important treks and sightseeing tours. Secondly it has got awesome hotels, great food and a buzzing nightlife scene along with plenty of shopping options. Thirdly in itself it’s a very pretty place that stands on a ridge that’s about 5,500 feet in altitude and remains sheathed in clouds at times.
There are lots of things to do in this beautiful city… you could try soaking in its beauty from the cable ropeway that runs from Deorali to Tashiling Secretariat… the Khangchendzonga, Gangtok town and surrounding valleys are clearly visible. Once you get down at Tashiling… you can walk down to Ridge Park and if you arrive in season, you can see the flower show in its full glory. Ganesh Tok…another major attraction is perched on a ridge about 7 km from Gangtok and it offers mountain views along with a spiritual destination. Go 9 km uphill from the city and you will arrive at the serene Hanuman Tok that’s an important religious destination and a view point. You can check out the sleep water works, lukshyama (royal crematorium) etc. from here.
Other nice attractions of Gangtok are Namgyal Ressearch Institute of Tibetology (it has rare Lepcha, Sanskrit manuscripts). Once you are done with sightseeing… enjoy the lively atmosphere of MG Marg that’s an open promenade (plenty of benches to rest your feet) flanked by shops, restaurants and bars on both sides. Gangtok also happens to be one of the few places where gambling is legalised… you can try your luck at Casino Majhong and Deltin Denzong Casino.
2. Tsomgo Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass
A day trip from Gangtok to Tsomogo Lake, Baba Mandir and Nathula Pass is hugely popular among tourists . Most tourists consider these places as the next stop after Gangtok has been explored. These fall under the Protected area category and you need to get a permit issued to visit them
(your travel operator will arrange this for you).
The Tsomgo Lake (Changu Lake) is nearly 40 km away from Gangtok….and it’s considered to be the highest one in Sikkim (3780 meters altitude). Brahminy ducks and many other exotic species of birds have made this lake their home. You will see a small Shiva temple on the shore of the lake. The waters of the lake originate from the melted snow from the mountains nearby. In summers there are wildflowers all around the lake and during winters the lake is completely frozen over and creates an incredible sight. You will see Yaks all around… most tourists opt to circle the lake via a Yak ride.
It’s recommended to visit Nathula pass (14,140 feet altitude) only between March to October. It remains completely snowed over otherwise. India’s state Sikkim is connected to China’s Autonomous Area (Tibet) via this pass and this was a part of the ancient silk route. You can see Chinese soldiers on the other side of the fence in Nathula and tourists find it entertaining to smile and shake hands with them. 3 km below Nathula is the Indian Trade Mart at Sherathang… you can check out shopping options here. Kupup which contains the world’s second highest golf course and Gnathang monastery is nearby. You can also check out the world’s highest altitude ATM that runs on generator here. Nathula’s extreme altitude may cause breathing problems…asthmatics and infants should be kept away.
Baba Mandir is also known as Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple…this is located between the Jelepla and Nathula Pass at an altitude of 13,123 feet. Baba Harbahajan Singh originally worked for the Punjab regiment before he died here and then reincarnated himself in dreams of his colleagues… prompting them to build a temple in his memory. He is regarded to be a sort of guardian deity of this area.
Covering these three places will require a full day’s time.
3. Lachung / Yumthang Valley / Zero Point
Lachung is a prominent tourist destination in the northern part of North Sikkim. Together with Yumthang… Lachung sees a lot of tourist traffic…in the recent past tourists have also started including Zero point in their schedules. All three places are full of incredible flora, in fact Yumthang is known as the flower valley…these places have even been compared to Switzerland for their stunning natural beauty. Lachung is actually a small mountain hamlet that’s about 118 km from Gangtok… nature lovers will have a great time here.
The Gompa (1880 built) in Lachung is 30 minutes away from the main market…. its perched against the backdrop of snow clad peaks. Do note the giant wheels and exquisite murals inside the Gompa. 22 km away from Lachung is Chungthang that has Chungthang Monastery and a sacred stone carrying Guru Padmasambhava’s footprints along with a beautiful point that shows the confluence of two rivers Lachung and Lachen Chus.
Near Lachung there is the Shingba Rhodenderon Sanctuary that has an incredible variety of Rhodenderons.
Just before you enter the Yumthang valley (this is 25 km from Lachung) there is a hot sulphur rich spring with great medicinal properties….don’t forget to take a dip here. 7 km away from the springs is a Shiva temple. 23 km away from Yumthang lies the famous zero point (tourists can’t go further than this point). In Yumthang you will see a whole riot of rhodenderons and the peaks of Pauhunri and Shundu framed against the Teesta River. If you have time you can opt for fishing in the nearby rivers Puniya Chhu and Yumthang Chhu.
The road from Yumthang to Zero Point is rocky but filled with the delicate fragrance of Azalea flowers. The zero point is very close to the Indo Chinese border and is at an altitude of 15,300 feet above sea level. If you love snow then this is a great place to enjoy it… the area is covered by snow for most parts of the year. You can also check out hot springs at Samdong near the river Sebu Chhu.
The pretty little town of Pelling has been a well-known name in the tourist circuit for quite some time now. Its altitude at 6800 feet gives visitors a nice mountain view of the peaks Koktang, Kabru, Pandim, Kanchenjunga and Siniolchu etc. Peling has several beautiful monasteries as well.
Once in Pelling, you can visit the 1705 built famous Pemayangtse monastery that’s one of the most well-known monasteries in Sikkim. Don’t miss the amazing thangkas inside and the 7 tiered wooden abode model of Rinpoche... Take a long walk (about 1 hour) to the Sanga Choeling Monastery that’s on a hilltop behind Pelling town. This is an even older monastery…built in 1697 and houses rare clay statues…the views from here are fantastic.
No visit to Pelling can be complete without seeing the sacred Khecheopalri Lake or a tour of the ruins of Rabdentse (the ancient capital of Sikkim). Another important destination is the Sangay waterfall along with the rock garden and waterfall near the river Rimbi. About 14 km away from Pelling is the serene Darap village that offers an extensive look at the native tribal culture. Walking on the Singshore Bridge (28 km from pelling) that’s 220m above ground is a treat for nature lovers and photographers. If you travel a little further…. about 32 km away lies the famous Kanchenjunga national park that is home to snow leopards and musk deer (a great trekking and safari destination).
Major cities and tourist hubs like Gangtok, Darjeeling town, Ranvangla, Jorethang and Kalimpong are within accessible distance from Pelling.
5. Lachen, Chopta valley, Gurudongmar Lake
There are scarce accommodation options near the famous Gurudongmar lake and Chopta Valley which is why most tourists prefer staying at Lachen (the name means “big pass”) in order to explore these areas. Lachen is about 120 km from Gangtok and enroute you can check out small Sikimese villages like Mangan and Tong…the road follows the North Sikkim highway. There is a diversion at Chungthang from where one road goes to Lachung and Yumthang while the other goes to Lachen. Lachen has unspoilt beauty and a small Gompa in it…in summers the annual Yak race is held here.
Gurudongmar Lake is Sikkim’s largest lake and is also its holiest water body (both Hindus and Buddhists revere it). It will take you around 4 hours to reach Gurudongmar Lake from Lachen as the roads are rough and steep. It’s interesting to observe the rapid landscape changes from Lachen to Gurudongmar. Once you reach the lake …its delightful to see the snowy mountains all around…this is a huge lake that’s about 290 acres large. Incidentally in winters the whole lake freezes over apart from a small part (this area is considered to be holy). The waters of the take are considered to possess healing properties. Don’t forget to visit the Padmasambhava temple on the banks of the lake.
Chopta valley can be visited enroute Lachen from Gurudongmar…its 2km away from a place called Thangu that falls on the way. This pretty valley is home to a stunning array of wildflowers in summer and autumn while in winters it’s covered with snow…tourists love to walk over the frozen river in winters.
All three areas can be explored fully in a couple of days using Lachen as a base. Tourists usually proceed to Yumthang-Lachung from here and some prefer going back to Gangtok.
The capital of Southern Sikkim…Namchi (meaning sky high in Sikimese) is one of the most prominent places to visit in this beautiful state. Its located 100 km away from Siliguri and 78 km from Gangtok and is off the route between Jorethang and Melli junction.
A profusion of tourist activities, pleasant weather and numerous attractions along with a strong religious tourism have all contributed to Namchi’s popularity.
Siddheswara Dhaam is a wonderful religious tourism development undertaken by the Sikkim government in the recent past. An 87 feet high statue of Shiva and copies of all the Char Dhams of India have been constructed on the Solophok hill. Incidentally this was envisioned by the Chief Minister Pawan Chamling. Copies of the 10 Jyotirlingas surround the 87 feet high Shiva statue. There are beautiful temples of Kirateshwar Mahadev and Shirdi Sai Baba here. The Dhaam has its own “Yatri Niwaas” and has won multiple awards for being the most creative Tourism project.
The other principal attractions of Namchi are Namchi Monastery, Ralang Monastery and Tendong Hill. The 118 feet Guru Rinpoche statue that stands on the wish fulfilling hill (samdruptse hill…this actually a dormant volcano). En route Samdruptse from Namchi stands the famous rock garden that has a good range of flora and recreational activities. Namchi is also one of the best places for shopping in Sikkim.
Incidentally there is a helipad near Namchi town from where one can get excellent mountain views along with glimpses of Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
The beautiful Temi Tea Garden (Sikkim’s only tea garden) is near Namchi and tourists usually keep a visit to this place as an integral part of their schedule. The annual flower show of Namchi that happens in February is also a major tourist draw. Football lovers love the Bhaichung stadium that was built in honour of Bhaichung Bhutia…the Gold Cup football tournament is hosted here annually. History lovers are intrigued by the fact that once a spiteful princess Pende Ongmoo who poisoned the Chogyals lived here and her ghost is still said to haunt the Ghuripsey hills.
Unlike many other destinations in Sikkim….Ravangla is not incredibly popular or well known in the current tourist circuit. It’s somewhat sleepy, untouched by commercialisation and people who have been there find these very qualities special. Ravangla is perched at an average elevation of 8000 feet and is there on the Gangtok Gaysiling Highway…its surrounding zones offer good views of Mt Kanchenjunga, Mt Sinialchu, Mt Kabru and other peaks. The area known as upper Ravangla sees snowfall and the area has a wide profusion of flowers giving it a lovely look during April and May.
Ravangla is considered to be a good base for trekking….the Mainam peak trek is 12km long and comprises of long walks through rhodendron forests. 15 km uphill trek will take you to Valedunga that’s a hill offering gorgeous mountain views. There is a trek route passing through the Mainam sanctuary and you can glimpse the Himalayan Black Bear, red panda, black pheasant cat etc there. Another popular trek goes up to Tendong that’s preceded by a 13 km drive to Damthang…the ultimate destination is Tendong peak that offers 360 degree view of Sikkim and the plains of North Bengal.
While at Ravangla don’t miss a visit to the Rayong Sunrise point which is 8 km away from town… this is a great place to watch the sunrise. The Temi Tea gardens (Sikkim’s only tea estate) is just 16 km from Ravangla and some prefer to reach it via a trek from Dentham than goes through the Tendon sanctuary (there is a dormant volcano inside).
Other notable attractions are the Ralang monasteries (old and new) that are 13 km away from town. If you drive further (or trek for an hour) you can reach the Ralang hot springs (Cha Chu) that are supposed to possess medicinal properties. 7 km from Ralang springs is Borong that’s a birding paradise…there is a lovely little handmade paper factory and eco stay here. Borong has hot springs and the lovely Rangit River flows beside it.
The major attraction inside Ravangla town is the Buddha Park that has a gigantic statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, landscaped gardens, meditation centre, museum and beautiful walkways. Ravangla steadily continues to gain tourist attention and is poised to become one of the most visited places in Sikkim.
Perched at a height of 10,000 feet on the rough lower Himalayas in Eastern Sikkim…Zuluk is an antique looking village beside a long winding road. Its claim to fame arises from the fact that it was once an integral part of the historic silk route that extends from Tibet to India. About 700 people stay in Zuluk and there is an Indian army base camp here….the Chinese border is a little distance away.
You can travel to Zuluk from Gangtok (90 km distance) and enroute see the Baba Mandir and Tsomogo Lake. From Kalimpong the route is via Pedong and Rongli.
About 14 km from Zuluk is the Thambi View point that offers a grand view of the entire Eastern Himalayas….this is an excellent place for watching the sunrise. The journey through Zuluk to Lungthung is a memorable experience….the road will make 32 hairpin bends to reach Lungthung. The local Naga temple in Lungthung houses an exotic deity of the King Cobra who is a mythical Hindu God.
Zuluk is used more as a trekking base from where tourists take numerous day trips to places like Lungthung, Tukla Valley, Padamchen, Nathang, Kupup Lake, Baba Mandir, Memenchu Lake etc. Zuluk boasts of great diversity of wildlife…you will find the Red Panda, Himalayan Weasel, Deer, Wild Dog and a whole range of pheasants like blood pheasant, snow pheasant, Monai pheasant and khaleez pheasant.
During the months of August and September Zuluk becomes a rainbow of colours with thousands of unnamed species of blooms while from January to April Zuluk is covered in sparkling white snow.
Very close to the Nepal Border in West Sikkim is a tiny village called Uttarey (6600 feet altitude). Most people who visit Peling also visit Uttarey…its just 30 km away. The quiet and serene environment of Uttarey is a perfect foil for the magnificent Kanchenjunga views that are available from here. Enroute from Peling or Dentum to Uttarey you will cross the famous Singshore bridge…the 2nd highest bridge in Asia.
Uttarey is part of the famous Uttarey valley that’s also a popular base camp for adventure tourism for the Singalila trekking trail. It is also known as the gate for Indo Nepal trade.
Bang opposite to the town market of Uttarey is the Titanic Park that has a huge Titanic Ship Model constructed inside it. The Kagyu Gompa (built in 1711 is one of Sikkim’s oldest monasteries) is a sought after place for worship for locals staying in Uttarey. This monastery is a short 10 minute walk from the Titanic Park and is perched on top of a hilltop.
Another worthwhile attraction is the Trout farm that’s just a couple of km away from the village. You can check out thousands of trout fishes that are cultivated here in small ponds. The nearby areas of the trout farm include a lovely riverside that’s ideal for picnics. The Tenzing Hillary Memorial Park is also worth seeing…there are good mountain views available from here. About 7 km from Uttarey is the Mainebass Waterfall that actually falls further down on the road that passes through the Trout Farm. This beautiful waterfall is a great sight for photography and camping. About 10 km from Uttarey is Chewyabhang Pass that’s also the gateway to Nepal.
There are several lovely homestays near Uttarey while the larger hotels are in and around its main market. If you love flowers…then Uttarey valley will appeal to you… in October- November the place is filled with cherry blossoms and March - May sees a lot of Rhodenderons.
10. Rinchenpong and Kaluk
Standing at an altitude of about 5576 feet, Kaluk and Rinchenpong villages are not very old on tourist maps. Recently visitors to west Sikkim have started making these two places as an important part of their schedule. These areas are the buffer zone of the rhodenderon sanctuary. Incidentally these two places are just 3 km apart and there are multiple roads leading to the area… all of them lead to the main market of Kaluk. One road starts from Jorethong and reaches Kaluk via Soreng.
The second road starts from Reshi (close to Legship) and goes first to Rinchenpong and then Kaluk (tourists coming from Gangtok, Ravangla etc. can take this route). The third road connects Rinchenpong from Peling and you can cross the famous Singshore Bridge and Dentam. From NJP, Rinchenpong is about 130 km while from Darjeeling the distance is 65 km.
Rinchenpong boasts of lovely mountain views… its quite close to the Kanchenjunga range and you can even see the nearby mountains like Mt Narsing quite clearly.
There are 2 well known monasteries here. The Rishum/ Gurung monastery is 18th century and is perched at 6250 feet on a hill that offers splendid views. Funnily this place is known as Maggi Dara because of the numerous steaming hot maggi preparations served here. Just behind the monastery is a park devoted to Rabindranath Tagore…the famous poet. The other monastery is much older…it dates back to 1730…it’s possible to go on a trek till this monastery via the Rinchenpong market…Once inside you can see a lovely Buddha statue inside…this is known as Atibuddha statue.
Another interesting attraction near the Rinchenpong Monastery is the Poison Lake… There is an ancient British Bungalow nearby…locals poisoned the waters of the lake killing the British people and giving birth to the interesting name “Poison Lake”.
About 18 km (at Chayatal) from Rinchenpong is Sirijunga temple that’s actually a cultural heritage and research centre. Inside there is a 36 foot bronze statue of the scholar Sirijunga Sin Thebe.
10 km from the Kaluk market is the water garden that has natural rock formations, restaurant and swimming pools. 20 km from the Rinchenpong is the Legship market and the famous hot water spring Tato Pani. The Varsey Rhodenderon sanctuary is also an attraction worth visiting. There are some large hotels in Kaluk but Rinchenpong has mostly homestays and smaller guest houses. This area is rapidly becoming an eco-tourism hub.